Beyond the Helpers

There’s a popular Facebook meme circulating that quotes the late, esteemed Fred Rogers advising us to “look for the helpers” during times of tragedy.

This well-meaning trend re-emerges just when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has admitted to a lack of transparency for the social network’s advertising policies and display algorithms. Specifically, the ads allowed foreign (Russian) companies to funnel hundreds of thousands dollars into circulating divisive, often false information. These ads were paid for in Russian rubles, from an unclear source that Facebook has not been required to disclose…yet.

In addition to the negative political sway Facebook has exhibited through ad sales, there has been a barrage of content relative to kneeling NFL players and interpretations of Trump’s (in)actions in Puerto Rico. This is the backdrop against which the “look for the helpers” philosophy has re-emerged. 

With these events, the construct of “helpers” is considered in different ways.  With the NFL protests, we need help clearing the misinterpretations of protests against police brutality, as well as an understanding of First Amendment rights. In Puerto Rico, significant humanitarian efforts from celebrities and everyday people have taken the place of significant government action. Helpers seem to be in short supply with too many challenges across the nation and the globe to attend to at once.  The aid needed is varied as well: hearts and minds (NFL) versus a physical requirement to rescue and rebuild infrastructure (Puerto Rico). 

The renaissance of the Mr. Rogers meme, however, is overwhelming applied to the  mass-shooting that took place in Las Vegas weekend. While there are ways to help our fellow Americans  through every crisis (and there is abundant evidence of Good Samaritanism in Vegas), now more than ever, we need action from our duly elected government representatives.

I’m looking for the helpers to address our many challenges on Capitol Hill, and across the board, I’m finding them lacking. The obvious leader in failure is Mr. Trump, who benefited from the Russian attack ads, greatly exacerbated the NFL protest’s momentum, made a mockery of assistance in Puerto Rico (he wanted to throw cans of chicken a.k.a. metal projectiles into a crowd of people without water or power) and has already deflated efforts for gun control reform, because white male “lone-wolves” are his people. The President of the United States, rather than being our central helper is instead the Instigator in Chief.

Sure, there’s a select few representatives pushing for changes in gun laws, but the political gridlock turns it all into lip service. An insufficient proposed regulation of gun stocks rather than gun sales. Over 500 injured and 58 dead demands more than compassion and partisan time wasting. It demands positive action across the aisle that will actually save lives.

I offer up a new meme: Guns don’t kill people. Cynicism does.

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Eye of the Storm

The past few weeks have been a madhouse of large-scale emergencies all over the country.

A brief update from my last post: our world leaders and police still need supervision. But Officer Jeff Payne was fired from his part-time paramedic gig following retaliatory remarks made against Nurse Wubbels. He attempted to arrest her in July for failing to illegally providing a patient blood sample.

Moving on…Hurricane Harvey was the first major event of its kind to devastate the United states since Wilma in 2005. We had just a few days to grapple with that disaster before Hurricane Irma came along –  fatter and faster than Harvey, and currently wreaking havoc on the state of Florida. Both storms are historic and have left communities grappling with prevention and recovery. Scientists say we are in the middle of an active hurricane period which began roughly in 1995, when water temperatures began to rise due to global warming.

Click the hyperlink for an independently compiled list of charities working to provide relief to victims of Hurricane Harvey. Similar links for Hurricane Irma will follow in a later post.

A little bit of good news from last week: The House passed Trump’s deal with Dem brass (“Nancy and Chuck”) to allocate $7.4 billion to FEMA. A follow-up vote from the Senate increased the aid package to $15 billion, with four Texans voting against the plan (note: these politicians are from parts of the state currently unaffected by Hurricane Harvey). The maneuvers also allowed an increase in the debt ceiling, and avoided a government shutdown – until December anyway.

With many Republicans opposed to the debt ceiling extension, we have to wonder why Trump chose this path. Was it an attempt to seek favor in light of fervent public opposition to the repeal of DACA?  A big “eff you” to GOP leaders with whom the President is already at odds? Or is Trump actually concerned for the Americans who’ve been devastated by natural disaster? We have our doubts about the latter.

It’s worth noting that immigration debates sank candidate John McCain, and also created intra-party headaches for former President George W. Bush.  Is Trump enjoying tangling with a GOP that is splintering under leadership dissent? A man who boldly demanded a wall to keep immigrants out of the country is now throwing DACA over to Congress. What gives?

More updates on hurricanes, FEMA, and DACA in my next post.

Accountability: Who’s in Charge?

It’s been a rough time for Texas as the state starts to recover from Hurricane Harvey. But while we’ve been (rightly) focused there, the rest of the world continues to turn – in ways comforting and threatening.

Recent news has been dominated by by a lack of accountability, locally and internationally.

I’m looking at you, North Korea, with your hydrogen bomb. Tests being conducted register on the Richter scale (at magnitudes of 6.3 and 4.1), and are also missile-compatible and mass-production ready. The United States responded with a flyover that an obviously irked Vladimir Putin described as a “rash act,” while his officials deal with a U.S. investigation of one of its three diplomatic locations.

These events put three hot-heads – Kim Jong-un, President Trump and Putin – with nuclear capabilities further at odds. And there are plenty of lingering, unresolved issues that continue to chafe; specifically the hacking of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election by Russia.

Looking closer and more inward, the lack of accountability trend continues with the recent treatment of nurse Alex Wubbels by Officer Jeff Payne, and a video of another cop, Greg Abbott “reassuring” a motorist that cops “only kill black people.” Two more members of law enforcement who clearly forgot that a mission to “To protect and serve” applies to EVERYONE. 

What are the repercussions for these officers? The lack of action by both departments is not encouraging. Payne is on full administrative leave, which means that pay AND benefits are still intact, despite clear documentation of unwarranted hostility. Similarly, Abbott found a loophole that allows him to retire. Retirement means benefits remain, circumventing the firing process.

Contrary to Trump’s (need I say uneducated and misguided?) opinion, police brutality of physical, cultural and social forms is unacceptable. Under normal circumstances, that message would come from the top. Instead we get a pardon of trash human Joe Arpaio, under the cover of Hurricane Harvey news coverage.

The lack of accountability and acceptable response to developments that threaten our civilization is dire. There’s advanced politics behind world powers going unchecked, but also it seems, behind community dysfunction.  The spotlight has been on brutal and unethical police actions for years, but where is the transparency? Where is the justice?

We need answers from someone besides Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump, who clearly favor a more lawless form of law and order – especially for people of color.

Next week, I’ll briefly follow up on these stories, and touch on Trump’s ending of DACA. I’ll also look at the recuperation progress in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the incoming Hurricane Irma.

United States of Emergency: Beyond Charlottesville

This past weekend offered a horrifying example of growing boldness empowering the hateful in America. The rally to “Unite the Right” under the alt-right banner culminated in the death of a counter protester run down by a white supremacist. Two local policeman helping to subdue the unrest were also killed in a helicopter incident.

The rally’s stated purpose was to protest the removal of a General Robert. E Lee Confederacy statue. The protest was organized by card-carrying bigot Richard Spencer, among others. Spencer played a key role in coining the term “alt-right” and has done much work to mainstream the divisive, radical ideology.

Ensuing discussions around who’s to blame for last weekend’s tragedy are moot and counter-productive. Ownership is clear. Richard Spencer, David Duke and their neo-Nazi thugs, including James Fields (the second-degree murder charge facing piece of garbage who mowed Heather Heyer) are directly responsible for the mayhem. Their words and actions incited hatred and violence that led to Saturday’s events. As political tensions blow up like powder kegs on issues such as Russia’s totalitarian actions, and the loose cannon of North Korea, it’s time for our country’s leaders to take strong, immutable positions against hate speech and violence.

To to white supremacists/nationalists/Neo-nazis trying to “take the country back,” a word of caution: nationalism is NOT patriotism. Members of “Unite to Right” are focused, not dissimilarly from their “spiritual” leader, President Trump, on entitled demanding and punishment, lacking any positive agenda to create a better, more productive America for anyone (including themselves).

There’s a severe disconnect between Spencer’s band of terrorists, who claim to feel disenfranchised, and the basic principles of inclusion. Gaining access and acceptance does not need to come at the expense of other groups. Equality and inclusion are not limited resources. The xenophobia I examined last week is boiling over, courtesy of a President that refuses to condemn the hate-filled intolerance of his core constituents. In fact, last weekend’s verbal response from The Donald adopted a “many sides” position that managed to affirm the white supremacists while casting vague blame on counter protesters. This is sickening.

You know Trump failed at bringing the country together beyond expectation when other conservatives trip over themselves to call out and condemn acts of domestic terrorism for what they are. The list includes Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Jeff Flake, and Tim Scott. Only open, vocal condemnation of white supremacists and their supporters will tell the Neo-Nazis they are not welcome here. The rhetoric of Republican leaders outside the White House is promising.

We need more than words, however. We need action. While freedom of speech is a foundational right, the border stop at inciting violent hate. Our leaders must condemn hatred and adopt all measures to protect diversity. Useless statements that allow white nationalists to misinterpret their advantage and gain momentum are the enemy.

If it’s time to “Make America Great Again,” we can’t equivocate. The alt-right is just plain wrong – and dangerous. 

America is in a state of emergency. We cannot doubt it. It’s 2017 and Nazis are terrorizing our country. Our collective response will make history – because either we stood together to expel hate, or because we failed our Constitutional commitment to each other.

Be Better Than Fear

My last two posts were pretty bleak. I admit it. I don’t believe the world is ending just yet, but there are definitely signs of doom for democratic ideals.

The fear and loathing can’t be divorced from the current President, his administration and the mockery that is being made of fair governance. Basic human decency should be an occupational requirement. But it’s not.

Although actual progress on any part of the Trump agenda has been mercifully slow, change is very much in the air, dredging up fear on both sides of the aisle. It’s just being channeled and processed differently. On the left we’re seeing authoritarian activities we believed were ancient history once again in vogue – and we’re resisting. On the right…I honestly don’t know what we’re seeing. But the Party of No is gunning for women’s health, civil rights and immigration.

At the center of both reactions lies fear. For some conservatives, it’s fear of what America’s changing demographics look like, particularly in post-9/11 America. On the liberal left, there’s panic that we’ll never make it three and a half more years of Trump.

Fear drives ignorant, shortsighted behavior, such as a school teacher handing out a “Most Likely to be a Terrorist” certificate to a seventh grader (as a “joke”). In what universe is branding someone at the most turbulent stage of their life as a terrorist, funny? Or even remotely appropriate? It’s harassment, an attack on a child’s mental state, creating a hostile environment for the entire community. We can’t have the people entrusted with our kids damaging their mental health and creating a bullying culture from the top down.

That same fear of the “other” contributed to North Carolina’s racist voting district gerrymandering efforts. These moves placed large groups of African-Americans into the same few districts, concentrating their votes. In effect, gerrymanderers split representatives 10:3 in favor of traditional, white republican representation in areas where black voters skew democratic. This approach was struck down by the Supreme Court with the uncharacteristic support of Justice Clarence Thomas, rarely to be found on the “liberal” side of a case.

SCOTUS’ ruling in the North Carolina case is one of the few moments of clarity and bipartisan unity we’ve seen in recent months, an indication that black votes, voices and lives matter. There is hope to be found in the system of checks and balances, no matter how delayed.

There’s also reasons for optimism as courts across the country slap down Trump’s proposed travel ban time and time again. In fact, just this last weekend Following another terrorist attack in London, Prime Minister Theresa May called for action to restrict “the safe spaces it needs to breed.” Trump’s travel ban and May’s preference for a police state are responses of fear, because they do not understand the bigger picture.

The proposed ban exists to discriminate against six majority Islamic countries as a show of nationalism (not to be confused with patriotism). Somehow Trumpsters and their supporters fail to realize reducing all Muslims to terrorists is like conflating all Christians with the Westboro Baptist Church.

May, while having a legitimate cause for concern (this is the third attack on British soil within three months), is reacting to radical elements of Islam. She’s looking to penetrate so-called self-segregated communities and be “less delicate of their sensitivities.” It’s panic that targets civilians.

When we hear the word “terrorism,” it’s disturbing  to observe the automatic jump of many to Islam. We need to remember that terrorism isn’t a religion; it’s a tactic. A tactic founded upon bullying, sadism and sociopathic tendencies to control people through threats, intimidation and violent action.

Terrorism does not exist “over there.” Look no further than America and Breitbart’s hate-filled agenda, the constant stream of cultural ignorance (yes, those are different links) thrown at those who look or believe outside of hetero, Caucasian, Christian paradigms. Consider Betsy Devos’ anarchist, hands-off approach to education. Every day on the job, she’s developing a hostile experience for future generations.

There is a lot of negativity to weight us down at present, but we also need to look beyond our own fear. By doing so, we’ll learn how to advance together. By way of example, there’s the One Love Manchester concert benefiting victims of the second U.K. attack. There’s also the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling against gerrymandering, and the unprecedented number of women running for public office. There’s human decency and intelligence visible everywhere – if you know where to look. 

Allowing paralysis or backward movement under the weight of fear does no one any good. The ability to look forward is what will distinguish leaders matching the global, human challenges of these times.

Getting Human Rights Wrong

Last week, America’s foreign policy shifted in a startling way. Our nation went from home of the free and the brave, to a potential Airbnb stay for oppressive dictators. Donald Trump is courting foreign leaders who have been likened to Hannibal Lector, and is opening the floodgates to negative possibilities by meeting one of the world champs of human right’s violations.

To the uninformed, inviting Rodrigo Duterte to the White House doesn’t seem that extreme or worrisome – foreign leaders are called to Washington on a regular basis. It’s common, expected diplomatic behavior. That this head of state, specifically, was invited is alarming, because a quick Google search turns up a number of 7,000 civilians killed due to his war on drugs in the Philippines (as of March 2017). Other evidence of his disregard for human rights can be found in additional returned searches. Legal experts assert that if Duterte were not President of the Philippines, he wouldn’t be allowed into the U.S due to these violations. But these are not normal times. There are certain similarities between Duterte and Donald Trump. The current egoist occupying the Oval Office would apparently love the opportunity to speak to himself through a fun-house mirror.

Combine Trump’s curious condoning of Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, with the recent designation of Kim Jong-Un as a “Smart Cookie.” Add in his ongoing obsession with Russia’s Vladmir Putin, and we’re looking at a bleak future for human rights. This is a president easily swayed by flattery who quickly absorbs problematic ideas. He shouldn’t be left alone unsupervised. All three of these foreign powers (The Philippines, North Kora, Russia) sit high on the Human Rights Watch violations list, with regressive policies against free speech and mounting (state controlled and sponsored) paranoia of the west, specifically the United States.

The truly terrifying take away from a potential visit with Duterte isn’t what could happen in the future, should The Donald develop a strong relationship with the leader. The real horrors are the shades of dictatorial political systems and regimes that have already infiltrated America. There are more examples than space in this column to provide, but you don’t have to look far to see escalated aggression against any group defined as “other” (read: non-white, poor, homosexual, religion other than Christianity). The divisive rhetoric from world leaders such as Duterte, Putin, Jong-Un and Trump creates a muscled environment for hateful propaganda to flourish. It encourages divisive hostility, supporting an “us vs them” narrative (looking at you, Breitbart, with your glowing “special report” of the first 100 Days of the Trump disaster) that  supporters embrace.

Mr. Trump signed an executive order (his 35th in just over 100 days in office- this list summarizes the first 29 and six more have been produced since) promoting “religious freedom,” which allows tax-exempt churches to advocate for and endorse political entities. This is another dangerous muddling of the lines between separation of church and state (The Constitution only mentions Congress in Amendment I). Many readers (myself included) interpret this as a blank check, allowing Indianans to refuse to bake me a cake if I decide to tie the knot. We all know how that turns out.

That’s just one tame example of authoritarian, dogmatic creepage. But right now, we have a President who’s achieved his definition of “winning” almost entirely through executive orders. He’s resentful of the press (no-showing at the Annual Correspondents Dinner) and prefers to create “alternative facts” while decrying reason and established journalism as “fake news.” We’re looking at the early stages of a dictatorship with a self-generating propaganda machine. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the arrest for laughing during confirmed racist’s Jeff Session’s Confirmation Hearing,  the same week that Alton Sterling’s highly publicized death resulted in no charges for the officers who shot him.

While all of these are technically separate events and occurrences, together they point to a narrowing notion of freedom in America – one where racism is rewarded, undue aggression is allowed a free pass if the victim isn’t a cisgendered white male, specific religious beliefs Trump (pun intended) others, and unrepentant murderers receive invites to the White House. The closing window of life and liberty also expanded last week to shut out the poor and unlucky further. The House passed a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, expanding the definition of pre-existing conditions to absurdly discriminatory levels (pregnancy is now apparently a pre-existing condition, whereas erectile dysfunction is not).

Detractors might say that coddling up to a man like Duterte could help promote a growing relationship with China. An increasingly hostile North Korea faced together and all that. I’m going to go however with a less is more approach. Given their records, Duterte and Trump should never be in a room together. America can’t risk it.

2016’s Biggest Electoral Casualty: The Media’s Integrity

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“Lies, fear mongering and discreditable boasting right out of the gate. And the media let him get away with it, treating Trump as the serious candidate he never was because man, the story was just too good. He’d never actually secure the Republican nomination, right? There would be plenty of time to course correct and cover the campaign with the gravitas that deciding upon the next Leader of the Free World deserves.

Except that never happened. And mainstream “journalism” has showed itself to be more than a recorder of events over the last 14 months. The industry has flat-out enabled, and in many cases, encouraged, a permanent blight on our political history.”

Read the full post for Contemptor.